After another week at PKSOI, I have fallen into a daily routine that is centered around my research for Mali. Every day I arrive at PKSOI around 8 a.m. and usually spend the majority of my workday (until I leave at 4 p.m.), researching different aspects of the country and formatting my findings into the template that Mr. Raymond mapped out for me. As I discussed previously, I am conducting research about a variety of aspects concerning Mali, in hopes of giving forces a better idea of the situation they will be coming into. In this blog, I will try and give a concise report of my findings regarding the background and profile of Mali.
Mali is a landlocked country in Western Africa and which spans almost twice the size of Texas. Mali is home to 15.9 million inhabitants who are concentrated in the country’s southern regions, due to more fertile land and moderate climate as oppose to the dry and arid desert climate found in the northern regions of the country. The main population center is found in the capital city of Bamako (1 million inhabitants), however other populated areas are found along the bank of the Niger River, where fishing and agriculture industries make up much of Mali’s economy. The economy is also based around the production of cotton (however it cannot compete with the global market prices of cotton) and the potential gold industry (which no one wants to invest in). Due to these economic issues, Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world with the GDP/capita sitting around $1,100 per year.
Although the official language of Mali is French, Bambara is very widely spoken along with other tribal languages and dialects. Bambara and other tribal languages are supported by the extremely diverse ethnic groups found in Mali, which include Mande (50%), Peul (17%), Tuareg (10%) and others. These ethnic groups have not always coexisted peacefully; primarily the Tuaregs and the state government (mostly Mande factions and personnel). Since Mali’s independence in 1960, nomadic Tuareg tribes who occupy the northern regions of Mali (known as the Azawad), have launched numerous rebellions and demanded independence due to economic and political neglect from the Malian state, which resides in Bamako in the south. It is important to note that the tension between the government and the Tuaregs is purely secular, as most Malians are Muslim (90%).
This conflict created the security vacuum in northern Mali after the collapse of the government when extremist jihadist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), started flock into the north. These extremist groups quickly allied with rebel Tuareg groups (known as the MNLA) in order to work together against the Malian government. Although the MNLA are not considered Islamic radicals, their Muslim faith helped foster a sense of brotherhood between themselves and the extremists.
For a more detailed account of the crisis in Mali, the Huffington Post has written a lot of good articles (just search “Mali, Huffington Post) or this UN web site goes into good detail without getting too technical (http://www.un.org/en/peace keeping/missions/minusma/background.shtml).
As you can see, the situation in Mali is extremely complex and involves many moving parts. Everything from a history of civil strife between the state government and the nomadic tribes, to the more pressing issue of terrorism and jihadist movements in the northern reaches of the country. The collaboration between these two groups makes the state government’s mission even more difficult, to the point where international assistance became necessary in January 2013. Next week I will go into further detail about how what I discussed in this blog has affected the current condition of the state.
This is the first time I have really studied individual aspects and demographics of a country during a conflict. Usually when I have studied or read about a conflict (whether it be intervention, civil war, conventional war, etc.), I have read summaries that might mention how certain political conditions or economic climates (for example) are affecting a situation. But never have I explored these areas in such detail. Merely having the time to explore all these domains in the Mali conflict has made me curious to explore how these domains affect other crises, past and present. How has the media been affected in the Syrian conflict today? How did the evolution of the political climate in Germany lead to World War II? In answering these questions for the Mali conflict, I have become more aware and interested to look for these effects in other historical events.